My family has used some unexpected ways to save money over the years. These methods aren’t possible for everyone to use, but they work!
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Unexpected way to save money #1: Cancel Amazon Prime
The RaLea of 10 years ago would not believe this. Even 2 years ago, pregnant and with a 3-year-old, I would never have considered canceling Prime. I did just that earlier this month.
Part of the reason for this move is to save the annual fee, but it’s also my small form of protest in reaction to Jeff Bezos’ employment practices and huge wealth gains (with no reciprocal societal improvements) during the pandemic. Neither of these are things I support and I want my spending to reflect that.
Where I live, I have the option to do drive-up order pickup from both Target and Wal-Mart, so I can easily and safely get most essentials fairly quickly. Lately Target has also had faster shipping than Amazon Prime’s “two-day shipping,” and it’s still possible to get free shipping from Amazon without a Prime membership.
I also still have access to the paid subscriptions we use all the time: Amazon Music and Kindle Unlimited.
Once in-person shopping is safer, I plan to support local businesses as much as I can. Many small businesses also offer online shopping. After we’re out of debt and have more money to spend on non-essentials, I am going to support smaller businesses when I can.
Annual savings: $119
Unexpected way to save money #2: use wood heat
When my husband and I bought our house in March of 2011, it only had a propane furnace. We used the furnace as needed until September, when we had a wood-burning stove installed. Since then, the wood stove has been our main heat source, with the furnace acting as a backup during the night and when we are out of town.
This works for us because my husband is the weirdo who loves cutting firewood on his days off. When driving past pine trees, he often says things like, “that’s a nice tree” or “look at all these dead trees.” He would spend every day in the woods if he could, so cutting firewood is more of a hobby than a chore.
Although the start-up costs of having a wood stove installed are pretty steep (we paid about $3500 for the stove and installation in 2011), the quality of the heat is far superior to a traditional furnace. Wood heat is more intense, warmer, and fluctuates less. In Montana, a wood-cutting permit is less than $30 for 4 cords of firewood, which is about the amount we use each year. You can only cut dead trees on specific public lands, a certain distance from waterways
A chainsaw and protective gear are also necessary. Safety training and knowledge of what you’re doing are even more important; I definitely don’t recommend falling trees and using a chainsaw for a beginner.
If you have to purchase the wood, your annual costs increase. Your homeowners insurance premium may also increase with having the stove. Our policy required us to have it installed by a professional. You definitely want to ensure your policy covers the stove because there is a fire danger.
Estimated annual savings: $1400
Unexpected way to save money #3: hunt & buying bulk meat
Once again, this method of saving money is mostly due to my husband’s interests. He grew up hunting and has continued that tradition since moving out of his parents’ home. In the last 14 years, we haven’t purchased ground meat ever and only bought beef steaks a few times.
To begin hunting, you should take a hunter’s safety course; it may be required in your state. You also need to purchase the appropriate hunting tag and know the boundaries of the hunting district you can hunt in. Even more importantly, you have to know what areas are public land and what areas are private. To maintain good relationships between hunters and landowners, it’s essential to respect property lines and not hunt on private property without explicit permission.
A rifle or bow is needed, as well as appropriate clothing and various other supplies. Hunting is not a cheap activity to get into, but nearly everything can be used from year to year. There are also often costs associated with the travel required to get to the appropriate hunting area.
Most years, we butcher the deer or elk ourselves to save even more money. My husband cuts the meat from the bones and I help grind it into burger. Wild game is very lean, so we add a small amount of beef fat, called suet, to the meat for flavor and texture. Suet is purchased from a local butcher shop.
We purchased a large meat grinder a few years ago, after burning up the motor in the smaller model we had. Each year we also have to buy bags for the vacuum sealer that we use to package the meat. We’ve used butcher paper in the past, but I prefer vacuum-sealed bags because the packages are thin and flat, so the meat thaws faster.
If you can’t or don’t want to process the meat yourself, you will have to pay a butcher. The cost varies by area and species of animal. To help store the large quantities of meat we use each year, we have two upright freezers, one for meat and one for produce and store-bought frozen foods. I was lucky enough to find one on Facebook Marketplace for significantly less than a new freezer.
Fortunately, everyone in my family tolerates the taste of wild game. Some people don’t like the taste, so I’d recommend trying the meat before investing in hunting gear and education. I use ground elk and venison exactly as I would ground beef, except when making hamburger patties. Then, I use more seasoning than I would with beef.
Buying bulk meat
We still buy chicken from the grocery store, but I prefer to buy ½ a pig from a semi-local farmer. I pay for the animal itself plus the butcher fees, but it’s still less than buying smaller packages at the store each week.
The quality of locally raised animals is better too, and I have some control over what cuts we receive. We have wild game made into more ground beef than steaks, because that’s what we eat more of.
Finding a source for reasonably priced beef or pork can be tricky. My husband and I both grew up on cattle ranches, so our parents have some connections that have been helpful. Another option is purchasing an animal through the county fair from an FFA or 4-H member.
Estimated annual savings: $500
Unexpected way to save money #4: garden & preserve
Our home is on almost half an acre, so we have plenty of room for a garden. My husband even designed and built a greenhouse about 8 years ago. You don’t need that much space or a greenhouse to garden though.
I think gardening has become more popular in the last year and will become even more common as we recover from the pandemic. Self-sufficiency has never seemed as important as it does now. We’ve been gardening since before it was cool, but I don’t consider myself an expert. Since having kids, my husband has done most of the planning and work of gardening, while I’m caring for the girls.
I contribute by preserving our harvest. We have had success in growing broccoli and cauliflower, as well as tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, beets, and peas. Carrots and corn have always been epic fails. We freeze broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, and sometimes beets.
To freeze produce, clean it and cut it into smaller pieces. Drop the produce into boiling water, for just a few minutes, to blanch it. Drain the water and lay the produce on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the freezer until everything is frozen, then package and vacuum seal.
We also can syrup, jelly/jam, pickled beets, applesauce, fruit in syrup, a variety of pickles. I’ve purchased bulk produce on sale from local grocery stores, from a local Hutterite colony, and from Bountiful Baskets.
To start canning, you need jars, lids, rings, and at least a water bath canner. A safe canning class is also highly recommended. There is a lot of misinformation and unsafe older methods out there, so it’s important to know how to safely can. Botulism is a real risk from unsafe methods.
I took a class from the county extension office. I don’t know how often classes like that are offered, but it was beneficial. It was awkward being the youngest by a couple decades, but I’d guess the age range is skewing younger these days.
In addition to feeding my family, I like to give canned goods away as frugal Christmas gifts. With all the therapists in my daughter’s life, buying gifts can get expensive. Homemade jams and jellies are always a welcome present.
Finally, we recently purchased a dehydrator and have begun making dried apple slices for snacks. My husband also dehydrated plums to make prunes, and bananas, but neither product was a hit in our house. This summer I want to try to make fruit leather using special liners for the dehydrator trays.
How much we preserve each year depends on the garden’s harvest and how much free time we have with the stages our kids are in
Estimated annual savings: $300
As you can tell, most of these money saving methods have startup costs. We can do all these things because we’ve acquired the supplies over years, either purchasing them ourselves or receiving them as gifts from family.
If you’re on a tight budget, choose one area to focus on. You can’t buy all the things at once and expect to actually save money. It took a couple of years for our wood stove to pay for itself. The dehydrator we bought last year still hasn’t “earned its keep.” I always shop around for a bigger purchase like this, use Rakuten for cashback, and try to use gift cards to help with the cost.
Beyond the startup costs, knowledge is required to do some of these things safely and legally. It takes time to learn everything necessary. I can’t cut firewood or hunt on my own.